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Are You a Bad Gifter (in More Ways Than One)?

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Shana Dressler, founder of the Social Innovators Collective, and I recently joined forces to author this article and create the 2012 Social Impact Holiday Gift Guide published by CSRWire. Here's why.

In 2008, Harris Interactive conducted a study for eBay which found that "more than four in five people (83 percent) receive unwanted items and almost half (46 percent) resell or regift, that is, give the unwanted gift to someone else as a gift." Then, this holiday season the National Retailers Federation (NRF) forecasted that $586.1 billion will be spent on gifts.

This translates into a shocking $486.5 billion of wasted money on unwanted gifts. Yes, that's $486,500,000,000. These gifts are given with the best of intentions and, in many cases, a lot of love. On the recipient side, it's impressive to balance the gratitude of "thanks for thinking of me" with "what the hell is this" as you open your gift to find another scarf (you have 10 of them); a book (you will never read); a gift card (a store you never shop at); or a sweater (you wouldn't be caught dead wearing).

So what makes a good gift?

It needs to be something the recipient likes, wants or "needs" -- something that is meaningful. But as much as a gift is about the recipient, it's also about the giver. Giving is, in essence, an exchange. What makes a great gift is one that brings a sense of joy, laughter, happiness, or gratitude on both sides. Often this success comes from people who share similar tastes, interests, or values. A thoughtful gift that someone will use definitely scores high. For without this, the unexamined gift is not worth giving.

In the U.S., we love to buy things. So much so that with roughly 70 percent of GDP coming from private consumption, our economy's well-being depends on it. By now we've all heard that our natural resources are becoming scarce and that much of what we buy ends up in a landfill. If this is news to you, watch the "Story of Stuff." Many articles have been written about the negative impact of business. The question is what can we as consumers do about it?

Luckily the answer is a lot. While studies report 70 percent of consumers say they would be prepared to pay more for a brand that supports a good cause they believe in, many people don't actually follow through with it. It's still a chore to buy good.

That's why we wanted to make it easy. So easy that it would be, shall we say, shameful if you didn't consider your options. We've identified businesses that use safe, well-produced and ethically sourced materials for products ranging from jewelry to shoes to electronics. Don't roll your eyes; our gift guide has some sexy, fun, and cool gifts someone would love to keep. For instance, instead of selecting a gift off the Neiman Marcus Fantasy Gift List where their "His & Hers Watches & Trip to Paris and Geneva" will cost you a mere $1,090,000, you can buy "His & Her Camels" at a bargain for $1,700.

With $486.5 billion, we have the opportunity to channel our purchasing power into companies and organizations that share our vision of a better world. Let's bring home the idea of why we give gifts at the holidays in the first place. It's an opportunity to thank the people in our lives who we most care about and those who have done something during the year that warrants our appreciation.

We feel confident that you'll find some great gifts in our 2012 Social Impact Holiday Gift Guide and hope you'll want to share it with friends and family. In fact, it's in your best interest to do so! You do not want your gift to make The New York Times' Worst Gifts List.

Follow Shana Dressler on Twitter